Thursday, September 17, 2015

Improving Bulgaria’s election administration with remote voting

Discussions on the current state of democracy tend to gravitate toward regions like the United States, the United Kingdom and India, but perhaps some of the more compelling changes are happening in other parts of the world. Some of the greatest developments are occurring in places like Brazil and the Philippines, for instance, and a major referendum is set to take place this October that could change the face of democracy in Bulgaria.

To be run alongside the Bulgarian local elections on October 25, the national referendum has been reduced down to a single question from the original proposition for three questions to be included. The proposition came forth from Bulgaria's current President Rosen Plevneliev and the question that remains on the referendum is on the subject of remote electronic voting.

More specifically, the referendum question is stated as follows: “Do you support the idea to be able to vote from a distance, electronically at elections and referendums?”

Noteworthy on how this question is being framed is that it is being positioned only as a plebiscite, meaning that the result of the referendum may not necessarily result in immediate change in how future elections are run in Bulgaria. However, if the popular vote returns as a yes, it will be a clear indication that Bulgarians are ready to modernize and improve the administration of elections in their country.

Strong support for remote electronic voting in Bulgaria has already been demonstrated, as the motion is being described not only as a presidential initiative, but as the initiative of over half a million citizens who “put their signatures down.” These same citizens, among many others, must also vote “yes” in October's referendum to ensure their voices are heard loud and clear by the country's politicians and electoral officials. Fair and equal access to exercise their right to franchise is an absolute must for all Bulgarians if the country's democracy is to be seen and understood as fair and equal too.

With the aid of a robust and secure technological infrastructure, remote e-voting can be more efficient, more convenient, and more cost-effective too. As it stands, nearly one million Bulgarians abroad have voting rights and without such a system in place, they would be effectively disenfranchised. President Plevneliev does not agree that millions of Bulgarians should be left out from the political arena simply because they have decided to work abroad.

The availability of e-voting would be in line with how the majority of people live and work today. “We already daily use the opportunities that technology provides us,” stated Plevneliev. “Electronic voting is the future, it will certainly happen. The question is not if, but when.”

Bulgaria certainly would not be the first to entertain the adoption of e-voting or even i-voting over the Internet. The country would be able to look to positive examples, like the i-voting system in Estonia, for inspiration and guidance on how best to implement a reliable, safe and secure system for electronic voting. Now is the time for Bulgaria to automate its elections, maintaining the integrity, legitimacy and relevance of its modern democracy.